Mabul Island Travel Guide

Overview of Mabul Island

Mabul Island, or Pulau Mabul, is a slice of tropical heaven situated in the Celebes Sea off the south-eastern coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is a small island located 15 kilometres away from the famous Sipadan Island, one of the top diving destinations in the world. As lodging on Sipadan Island is no longer permitted, Mabul Island has become a popular pitstop for both accommodation and diving whilst waiting for a permit to Sipadan.

The island itself is a flat sandbar surrounded by a shallow coral reef system and is home to some of the best marine macrolife in the country. The seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to a depth of approximately 25 metres to 30 metres. It is the picture perfect tropical island with crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees and two fishing villages.

What To Do

Scuba Diving

Sipadan aside, Mabul Island itself is one of the richest destinations in the world for small exotic marine life such as the rare flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, bobtail squids, orange frogfish and mimic octopus, which is great for underwater macro photography. Its sandy slopes have also become a top destination for ‘muck diving’ in addition to a number of shipwrecks to explore.

Top Mabul Island Dive Sites:

Seaventures Dive Rig

A one-of-a-kind dive site made from a converted oil rig platform. It is popular for muck diving and macro lovers, as well as night dives.

Froggy Lair

The visibility here is not as clear but the rare critters you will come across will make it worth your while! Be on the lookout for frogfish, crocodilefish, nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and mandarin fish.

Eel Garden

Watch colonies of garden eels sprout from the sandy seabed found at a depth of 10-25 metres alongside wonderful macrolife such as mantis shrimp, gobies, nudibranchs and more. This dive site is another great place for night diving and muck diving.

Lobster Wall

This dive site is aptly named after the many lobster inhabitants that can be found hiding in the open water wall at a depth between 25-40 metres. Here you can find a hidden cave at 40 metres, filled with not just lobsters but vibrant frogfish, lionfish, seahorses, pufferfish and ghost pipefish. This is not advisable for beginners and more suited to divers with Advanced Open Water certification.

Crocodile Avenue

This shallow dive site ranging between 5-20 metres in depth is a place for the true macro and small critter lovers. Sharp eyes will help you spot camouflaged crocodilefish and scorpionfish lying amongst the rock formations and sandy slopes.

Snorkelling & Freediving

There’s no need to worry about missing out if you are not a diver, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Mabul is definitely an experience that will impress! You will have the opportunity to get acquainted with stunning coral reefs, sea turtles and a variety of special marine life not seen anywhere else - all from the shoreline.


There’s another way to really appreciate the blue, aquamarine, tropical waters of Mabul Island and the Celebes Sea - and that’s with an aerial bird’s eye view! If you have never been parasailing before, there’s no better place to give it a try and experience the feeling of soaring high up in the sky.

Village Visiting

Visitors can also hop over to the two ‘Bajau Laut’ fishing villages located on the island to experience the way of life of this seafaring community.

Where To Stay

Mabul Island has a wide selection of accommodation on offer with options ranging from budget backpacker lodges, to mid-range resorts and luxury water bungalows. For the more adventurous, you also have the option of trying the MV Celebes 9 Explorer ‘liveaboard’ boat.

Some of the cheaper lodging may not have a diving centre and if you plan to make it to Sipadan, only official dive centres and resorts can arrange for the dive permits required.

For those who prefer a day trip to Mabul to explore and do some snorkelling, you may choose to stay in Semporna Town on the mainland and take a boat over to Mabul. Semporna Town does have a wider variety of accommodation types available in comparison to Mabul Island.

When Is The Best Time To Go

Diving in Mabul is open throughout the year with the supposed peak season between April and December. If you would like to avoid higher prices for hotel and flights, avoid the busy months that are June, November and December.

How To Get To Mabul

You may fly from Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan or Kuala Lumpur into the town of Tawau. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia have daily flights available. There are flights running throughout the day but it is advisable to catch a morning flight. Resorts that offer pick-ups usually prefer the morning for pick-up.

It is almost a 2-hour drive from Tawau to the coastal town of Semporna. Depending on the sea and weather conditions, it is about a 45-minute boat trip from Semporna to Mabul.

What Should You Know

  • Though the resorts may accept credit cards, it is advisable to bring cash as there is no ATM on the island and smaller places do not accept credit cards.
  • The entire trip can be arranged by your diving resort or dive operator.
  • Get the morning flight into Tawau to avoid spending a night in Semporna as the ferry ends at 4.30 p.m.
  • Pack sufficient necessities and medications if required as it is a small island.

What To Wear

  • Proper beachwear such as comfortable and cooling light clothes that can also dry easily.
  • Bikinis and swimwear are acceptable, although it is best to avoid wearing clothes which are too revealing to be respectful to the local community.
  • As Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, nudity and going topless is completely unacceptable.